Louisiana education leaders need to step up: John Manginnis

Date: Aug 10, 2011

Louisiana education leaders need to step up: John Manginnis

As always this time of year, hopes and expectations are high for two-thirds of a million students returning to public schools.

The same could be said for the decade-long political movement to change the course of public education toward more accountability for students, teachers and principals, as well as more autonomy and responsibility at the school level. Yet, for supporters, there are troubling signs in the approaching fall elections for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Though backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, BESE's movement toward charter schools, test-driven accountability and performance-based teacher evaluations is being challenged by renewed resistance from teacher unions, school boards and superintendents and by the lack of clear leadership on the administration's side.

The departure of former superintendent Paul Pastorek, who advocated for the so-called progressive movement but who turned off nearly everyone else, was seen as an opportunity to ease the divisiveness, reset the change agenda and bolster its slim 6-5 BESE majority by electing new members this fall.

Increasing that majority became a cause for business groups that pledged to raise money for like-minded candidates. But their problem has been finding the candidates. Fewer public-spirited citizens are willing to run for an office that comes without salary but with strict financial disclosure requirements, that entails enduring long, often contentious board meetings, all to advance policies that are often rejected or sidetracked by the Legislature.

On the other side, a new group, the Coalition for Public Education, comprised of the teacher unions and local school officials, has formed for the purpose of picking off one or two seats held by administration supporters and thus flipping the board majority. Besides his three appointees, the governor can count on the votes of only three of the eight elected members -- and now two of those seats are in doubt.

In the 3rd District, in bayou country, Glenny Lee Buquet, a governor's ally, is not running for re-election, and no strong candidate has emerged to replace her.

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